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Preaching Sermons that Transform Your Hearers

By Rush Witt

Good preaching/teaching is increasingly difficult to find today. It is difficult not only because it is rare, but also because so few Christians know how to spot it. Ask the average Christian to describe a good sermon and he or she likely will give some of these characteristics:

* An engaging intro

* Good stories about life

* Occasional shouting, but not too much

* Variations on rate and volume of speech

* All the points start with the same letter

* Greek or Hebrew definitions

* An emotional conclusion

No doubt, these characteristics describe engaging communication, but it's important to remember good preaching is far more than good communication. Churches and Christians need a better brand of pulpit. Specifically here, we'll think about two kinds of preaching; both are important, but one is far superior. We will call them propositional preaching and transformational preaching.

Propositional preaching focuses primarily on the communication of facts, ideas and truths. Transformational preaching also focuses on facts, ideas and truths; but it goes much farther by working hard to do more than communicate. Rather than aiming and dispensing Scripture, transformational preaching aims to change the hearers by applying those facts, ideas and truths to their hearts and lives. There is a stark contrast between dispensing the Word and ministering the Word. Dispensing truth merely places a meal on the table. Ministering the truth involves carefully preparing, plating and feeding the guests one nutritious bite at a time.

Consider a simplified example from Philippians 2:14-16 to illustration this difference: "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."

Propositional preaching on this passage might sound similar to: "God used Paul to give people an unmistakable command. Don't grumble or argue. No one likes a complainer. It seems as if Christians are some of the worst complainers. According to the text, the worst part is that grumbling and complaining gives the world a bad impression of Christianity. So, stop complaining. Stop it! Paul said we live in a crooked and perverse generation. Unbelievers need to be able to see a difference between us and our culture. If you constantly complain, you will look the same as the world. Paul said we need to prove we are Christians. If you grumble and complain, maybe you're not a Christian. So stop grumbling."

In this highly simplified example, I have highlighted two of the propositional priorities. Among others, propositional preaching emphasizes facts and commands. While facts and commands are certainly important aspects of rightly dividing the Word of God, they are not enough. Facts and commands can inform and direct listeners, but they cannot transform. The apostle Paul taught that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. In a similar way, preaching sermons that are merely propositional may communicate information about God and the gospel, but does not provide the necessary instruction for lasting biblical change. In fact, the change it is most likely to accomplish is pharisaical change, leading people to become rule-followers rather than Christ-lovers. At the same time, propositional preaching typically includes a high measure of emotion. While emotions are an important part of the Christian life, our natural tendency is to be ruled by our emotions. The common emotionalism of fact- or command-oriented preaching often leads to very little change because listeners tend to get caught up in the emotions of the messenger. Preaching that leads to life transformation is invariably deeper, richer and more helpful.

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